Chatham told its books need new software, sharper pencils

CHATHAM–The Town Board heard last week from the town’s accounting firm about last year’s budget and some questions that still need to be resolved.

Mike Bucci of Patterson, Koskey, Bucci & Howe said, “The town is not in… dire financial straits,” but his firm does see some major issues with town reserves and with the White Mills Bridge project, which has not yet been fully paid for.

At the May 19 meeting Mr. Bucci thanked and praised town Highway Department Secretary Tammy Shaw for her work keeping the town “afloat” during the transition from an in-house comptroller to the accounting firm. Town Comptroller Deborah Cesternino died last April and the previous Town Board hired Ray Preusser as comptroller in September of 2015 for a term lasting through December 31. When Supervisor Maria Lull took office at the beginning of this year, she and the new board advertised for an accounting firm to take over the comptroller’s duties and appointed Mr. Bucci’s firm to the position in January.

Mr. Bucci said last week that his final audit of the 2015 town budget is not yet complete due to some unresolved matters and that he needs more information. One of those matters is White Mills Bridge repair, which was primarily funded by federal and state agencies. He said there is an outstanding balance on that project that needs to be resolved. “We have some work to do on that,” he said.

He also said that due to some reserve funds “not properly reported” in a 2014 audit, there is a deficit of $49,000 in one of the town reserve funds. He described other reserves as being healthy and said there may be money in a stabilization fund that could be used to offset the negative fund balance.

Mr. Bucci said the town will be moving to Quickbooks accounting software and having the town payroll handled by Hudson Valley Payroll starting next month. Currently Ms. Shaw handles payroll. Mr. Bucci said there are some issues with the amounts being withheld for retirement accounts.

He had a few recommendations for the town, mostly about separating accounts. “My recommendation is not to co-mingle these reports,” he said of five different funds, adding, “It’s easier to account for.”

The board received a detailed balance sheet for the 2016 budget so far. Mr. Bucci said he would meet with the town’s Finance Committee and start planning for the 2017 budget in August. “It’s going to be a very interesting budget season,” he said, anticipating an effort by the board to keep the budget within the limit set by the state tax cap law.

He also said that he hoped to put the current budget reports on the town website so residents have that information.

“We are going to have a very transparent budget,” said Councilman Bob Balcom, referring to the budget preparation process.

Supervisor Lull said of the accountant’s report, “I feel confident that we are in good hands.” But she also said that she was “disappointed” by the issues he raised in connection with the next budget. “I thought we’d have smooth sailing,” she said.

Mr. Bucci stressed that other towns that he works with face similar issues.

Also at the meeting:

•The board passed a motion to pay no more than $19,500 to finalize the town’s comprehensive plan update. Chatham has hired Nan Stolzenberg and John Lyons to prepare the updated the plan. The board also appointed community members Randy Walker, Karen Murphy, Van Calhoun and Don Hegeman, along with Mr. Balcom, to a Comprehensive Plan Committee

•The board hired a second part-time code enforcement officer, Kent Pratt, for 15 hours a week at $30 an hour

•Supervisor Lull announced that the STAR school property tax exemption is being transitioned to a new personal income tax. New homeowners–those who purchased their homes after March 2, 2015–are not eligible for STAR but may register with the state for the income tax credit/check program. Those who already have the STAR exemption will stay with the program

•The town has launched a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TownofChathamNY.

The board will hold a special meeting June 2 at the Tracy Memorial at 7 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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